Tesla Motors fights back hard against report of possible Model S-related garage fire

PALO ALTO — Tesla Motors (TSLA) is fighting back hard against news reports that a garage fire last month may be related to its Model S sedan or the electric vehicle’s charging system.

Reuters reported this week that a Nov. 15 garage fire at a home on the UC Irvine campus may have been caused by an overheated charging system, citing a report by the Orange County Fire Authority. There was a fire in the wall socket where the vehicle was plugged in, but the car was not burned and no one was injured.

Tesla has found itself on the defensive after three battery-related fires involving the Model S first surfaced this fall. Two of those fires occurred after drivers hit highway debris and the other followed a collision.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a formal investigation Nov. 19 that is ongoing.

Headlines about the Model S fires have infuriated CEO Elon Musk, who took to Twitter to blast the news coverage.”Why does a Tesla fire w no injury get more media headlines than 100,000 gas car fires that kill 100s of people per year?” Musk asked in one tweet last month.

Following the report of the garage fire, Tesla released a lengthy statement saying the company had investigated the fire and that neither the Model S nor the charging system was not to blame.

“Based on our inspection of the site, the car and the logs, we know that this was absolutely not the car, the battery or the charge electronics,” the company said. “There was a fire at the wall socket where the Model S was plugged in, but the car itself was not part of the fire. The cable was fine on the vehicle side; the damage was on the wall side.

Tesla also said that a review of the car’s logs “showed that the battery had been charging normally, and there were no fluctuations in temperature or malfunctions within the battery or the charge electronics.”

The company called the Reuters report “misleading,” adding: “It appears that their objective was simply to find some way to put the words ‘fire’ and ‘Tesla’ in the same headline. The journalists and editors who created the story have patently ignored hundreds of deaths and thousands of serious injuries unequivocally caused by gasoline car fires, instead choosing to write about a garage fire where there were no injuries and the cause was clearly not the car.”

Reuters could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tesla says it is on track to deliver 21,500 Model S sedans in 2013. The company recently opened a showroom in Beijing and is preparing to expand production capacity at its Fremont factory, thanks in part to tax breaks on the purchase of manufacturing equipment issued by the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority, chaired by state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.